How Is Nuclear Power Generated?


Quick Answer

Nuclear power harnesses the energy from nuclear fission to heat water, using the steam to generate electricity. The controlled nuclear reaction in the heart of the reactor supplies the heat, and can be reduced or intensified to adjust the amount of power created in order to meet demand.

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How Is Nuclear Power Generated?
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Full Answer

Nuclear fission occurs when a particle, usually a neutron, crashes into the nucleus of an atom and causes it to split. This reaction releases enormous amounts of energy as well as additional free neutrons, and these neutrons can trigger additional reactions. If the material is dense enough, these additional reactions will cause a runaway effect, creating a release of uncontrolled energy in a nuclear explosion. A nuclear reactor uses neutron-absorbent materials and specialized fuel in order to maintain the reaction at a controllable level.

Outside of the reactor, electricity is generated the same way a fossil fuel or concentrated solar plant generates electricity. The heat travels through a heat exchanger to a system of water tanks and pipes, heating the water. The resulting steam is forced through a turbine, causing it to spin. The magnetic components inside the turbine induce an electrical charge as they move, creating an electrical current that flows out of the power plant and into the electrical grid.

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